Behind the scenes at the Zephyr Theatre.
Community theater can create a lasting impression on the people it touches—whether they’re an actor, director, someone behind the scenes or an audience member. The Zephyr Theatre in Stillwater is giving people the opportunity to experience more community theater. Artistic director Calyssa Hall says she wanted to bring that magic to the St. Croix Valley community.
Hall has always been interested in theater and did plays through her church as a child. “I would take the scripts home and have my family be all of the parts and I would be the director,” Hall says. She then went on to participate in plays through the Phipps Center for the Arts when she was just 11 years old. “That’s really when I started loving it,” Hall says. “And then they needed people to stage manage and do some tech work with lights and sound and I realized how much I loved the production angle of things.” Hall got her degree in musical theater through the University of Wisconsin–River Falls and then began working as a tech at the Stillwater Community Theater and the Phipps. “I loved doing stage management, but I wanted to be able to create the magic, instead of just manage it. So, that’s when we started the company,” she explains.
Hall created her company called Only a Dim Image Productions in 2013 and began at the Southern Theater and the Music Box Theatre in Minneapolis. She then began the journey of picking a home for her dream. “We kept driving by that Depot Building, so we called the realtor and asked for a tour and thus, the dream was born,” Hall says.
The Zephyr Theatre puts on about six of their own productions per year—some of their past shows included Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Candle in the Wind and the musical Gigi. Hall says A Midsummer Night’s Dream was one of her favorite shows because it’s one of the first big shows they did under the Zephyr name. “We got to do it up in Pioneer Park and we had over 200 people there each night. And families would come and the weather was perfect and it was overlooking the river and it was kind of magic,” Hall says. Hall says Gigi was the most work because it was her first time managing the whole production of a show. “It was a really affirming moment that this was what I was supposed to be doing,” Hall says. “It was the most work and the hardest I’ve ever worked but it was the most fulfilling thing ever.” The Zephyr also host jazz nights, movie nights, concerts, dance nights, magic shows and more.
The Zephyr Theatre offers classes for people who are interested in acting. “We have performance based classes, but then we also have separate Children’s Theatre productions that kids can be in,” Hall says. There is Creative Playmaking for children and more performance-based classes for adults. Auditions are posted online and all professional shows have open auditions. While most of the performers are from the St. Croix Valley area, Hall says she’s excited about bringing non-natives to the theater.
We spoke with some of the people who are closely involved with the Zephyr Theatre to learn more about them and their experience.
Chico Rouse (Marketing and Program Director)
Chico Rouse has been working at the Zephyr Theatre for about five months. With a rich background in music, Rouse’s father was famous saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Inspired by the music scene, Rouse went on to study music and worked with people like George Benson and Eric Gales. He has also worked as the general manager at Paramount Theatre in New Jersey and the special event director for the City of Asbury Park, New Jersey.
What does a marketing and program director do?
“To get the maximum of awareness out for the theater. The program is about diversifying the different arts—whether it’s visual arts, performance, dance, theater, comedy.”
Favorite part about community theater?
“It educates the youth. If they really decide to make it a profession, they have some background from that community art facility that they can build from.”
Suzann Brown (Board Chair)
Suzann Brown has been involved with the arts in St. Croix Valley since 1991. She was one of the founding board members of the River Valley Arts Council, which is now called the ArtReach St. Croix. Brown has always been musical and has loved live theater her entire life. After finding out about the Zephyr Theatre, Brown found that it was time to focus her attention on bringing live, professional theater to the St. Croix Valley area.
What does a board chair do?
“My key responsibility as a board chair is leading the fundraising needed to bring the theater to fruition. Insuring that the donor base is engaged and acknowledged, recognized and keeping them involved.”
Favorite part about community theater?
“There’s part of theater that when you are sitting in the theater and you are watching live people, they touch you. They spark something in you. They leave a memorable moment. And the other part of live theater is it’s transformative. It can transform lives. Particularly our young people.”
“A Candle in the Window.”
Robin Conama (Instructor)
Robin Conama teaches a joint musical theater class with Cindy Thompson. She focuses on teaching the dance portion of the class—teaching her students the basics and then focusing heavily on breath control, confidence and proper positioning. Conama grew up in a dancing family—her mother and aunt owned a dance studio for most of her childhood. After the studio closed down, Conama went on to join The Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists.
What is your primary focus?
“My goal is for students to be confident while auditioning for future musical theater productions. Many people see the dance section of an audition as daunting, but I love helping them realize that it is a fun way of expressing who you are as a performer and actor no matter what ‘level’ of dance you are at.”
Favorite part about being a instructor?
“Every student struggles with certain moves, musicality or stage presence and one day, it just clicks. They work so hard and when it pays off, they have a glow around them the rest of class. It makes everything worth it.”
Favorite part about Zephyr Theatre?
“They are not only interested in putting on great shows but want to foster a community.”
Randal Berger (Actor)
Randal Berger began acting in fifth grade, but has been doing it professionally since 1988. He has performed on stage at The Old Log, The Ordway, The Fitzgerald and more. He has also directed several plays. He made his debut at the Zephyr Theatre in 2017, where he performed and directed his first show: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Favorite part about acting?
“Acting has the ability to allow us to share a deeper sense of each others’ minds.”
Favorite part about the Zephyr Theatre?
“A sincere sense of commitment in creating together as a group, rather than letting the focus drift to individual people and elements.”